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Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A (April 3, 2011) March 22, 2011

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

No wonder we mortals have difficulty grasping the word of God and applying the divine address to our lives here and now. God does not fit any of the categories by which we manage our lives and the affairs of the world. The Bible makes no qualms about the differences between God and us. In the words of God,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

Even the future Davidic ruler that God promises to send will exercise justice and judgment not by what his eyes and ears detect (the ways a human judge would act), but—as a result of the Spirit of the Lord—righteousness, equity, and faithfulness will serve as the foundations of his reign (Isaiah 11:3b-5).

As we discuss the lessons for the day, we necessarily use our human eyes and ears. These and our other senses are the ways we perceive the world. Yet they are insufficient to grasp the vision and word of God.  Maybe it’s just because “My light is not your light, says the Lord.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A.

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Psalm 23
This psalm of trust is based on the development of the image of YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80; Ezekiel 34) to the intimate relationship of YHWH and the individual worshiper.  The imagery speaks of the Lord’s guidance, presence, and protection through the valley of darkness.  (The traditional translation “the valley of the shadow of death” was based on reading Hebrew tsalmût = “darkness” as tsalmāwet = “valley of death”; however, there are no compound nouns in biblical Hebrew.)  The scene switches in verses 5-6 to a festive meal in the temple (perhaps a thanksgiving meal that seems to celebrate divine rescue from a lamentable situation). The exhilaration even includes the worshiper’s awareness that the Lord has anointed his head with oil. Through it all, the psalmist exults in the ongoing joy at participating in this different kind of intimacy with the Lord.  The worshiper has confidence for the future because of the constancy of God’s care past and present.

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Psalm 142
The psalm is a lament in which the psalmist is suffering persecution from enemies who lie in wait along pathways. The cries for help to YHWH result from the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord as “my refuge” (v. 5) and his promise to give thanks to the name of the Lord. The psalm concludes with the hope that “the righteous will surround me” on the basis on the Lord’s bountiful action (v. 7).

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1 Samuel 16:1-13
Having sent Samuel to the family of Jesse in order to anoint a king to succeed Saul, God selects the anointed one not on the basis of what people see, even the prophet, but on the basis of God sees in the heart.

Context
In the latter part of chapter 9 the Lord commanded the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul to become king over the people of Israel.  In the following chapter the anointing took place in private, and Samuel assured Saul of his new role by giving him a sign.  By the time we reach our pericope, the ability of Saul to reign faithfully has been brought into question. The Lord regretted the selection of Saul, and so the Lord sends Samuel to Bethlehem in order to anoint a new king, one of the sons of Jesse.

Key Words
V. 3.  ûmāšaktî lî = “you shall anoint for me”:  At 10:1 Samuel anointed Saul to be ruler of the people, and that man was so identified as “the Lord’s anointed” on several occasions, even by David.  Following the anointing of David in our pericope, only Davidic kings were anointed and called “the Lord’s Messiah.”  The concept changed drastically in the preaching of Second Isaiah who used the title of Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 45:1).  The title is not used in the OT prophecies about a future ideal Davidic king.

V. 7.  kî lō’ ’ašer yir’eh hā’ādām kî hā’ādām yir’eh la‘ênayim waYHWH yir’eh lallēbāb = “for not as a human sees, because a human sees with (lit. “to”) the eyes, but Yahweh sees with (lit. “to”) the heart”:  In the immediate context the reference is to the selection of which son of Jesse is to be anointed:  Samuel would have picked on the basis of appearance.  Yahweh, however, makes the selection on the basis of something humans cannot discern.  Similar differences between the Lord and humans can be seen at Isa. 55:8-9 in terms of thoughts, and differences between the future ideal Davidic king and other humans appear at Isa. 11:3 in terms of judgment on the basis of sight or hearsay.  The issue of divine sight appears to be the reason for the selection of this passage in connection with John 9.

V. 13.  wattitslach rûach-YHWH ’el-dāwid mēhayyôm wāmā‘lâ = “and the Spirit of the Lord rushed to/upon David from that day and onward”:  The Spirit rushes similarly on Samson, giving him strength to kill an onrushing lion (Judg. 14:6), anger to slay 30 men of Ashkelon (14:19), and power to break his bonds to kill a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (15:14).  In a lighter vein, when the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul he prophesied along with a band of prophets (1 Sam. 10:6, 10), but on another occasion such a rush aroused Saul’s anger to the point of killing a yoke of oxen.  At 1 Sam. 18:10 “an evil spirit from God” rushed upon Saul and he raved like a lunatic over the music David played.  All of these references sound like an adrenalin rush rather than divine inspiration. Strikingly, in the Gospels, Mark writes that “The Spirit immediately drove him (Jesus) out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The Temptation story in Matthew and Luke, quite different from Mark’s, talks about the role of the Spirit but not with such urgency.

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Isaiah 42:14-21
Confirming the lament of the people in exile, the Lord announces that the time has come for him to turn darkness into light and to make glorious his torah.

Context
In the preaching of the prophet in Isaiah 40—55, the context of lamentation looms large. The people express their exilic suffering at 40:27: “My way is hid from the Lord, and my justice is disregarded by my God.” The theme is repeated in different words at 49:14: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”  In our passage the Lord admits to silence and inactivity, but now is prepared to end the silence with a shout of transformation.

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Ephesians 5:8-14
Having been called to imitate God, Christians are called also to be and act what we are:  light in the Lord who is and who gives light.

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John 9:1-41
Against the notion that people who suffer are being punished for their sin, Jesus heals the man born blind so that his identity as the light of the world and God’s eschatological works accomplished in him might be known.

Context
In many cultures of the ancient world people believed that one suffered according to one’s misdeeds.  So automatic was the sentence that often the same word was used for the crime and its punishment.  This philosophy was particularly popular among the wisdom teachers and can be gleaned from the Book of Proverbs and especially from the friends of Job.

As for the context in the Gospel, Jesus had been teaching in the precincts of the Temple.  He had been present in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles (7:2, 10, 37).  Having placed himself in jeopardy by his “I am” speech, Jesus left the Temple as the Jews picked up stones.

Key Words
V. 3.  all’ hina phanerōthē ta erga tou theou en autō = “but that the works of God might be manifest in him”:  while the disciples asked the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus answers in terms of what good can come out of it.  That good, the glorification of God, is a well-known theme throughout the Bible:  it is the reason for the plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses (Exod. 9:16; 10:2) and for the Reed Sea event itself (Exod. 14:17-18).  The glory of God is also the reason for the new exodus, the return from Babylonian exile (Isa. 43:21; Ezek. 37:14 and often in Ezekiel).  In the NT see the conclusion of the hymn at Phil. 2:6-11; Rom. 9:17.

V. 5.  hotan en tō kosmō ō, phōs eimi tou kosmou = “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”:  That Jesus is the light of the world is seen by the quotation of Isa. 9:2 at Matt. 4:16 and at John 1:4, 7, 9.  Beginning already at Gen. 1, God is the light of the world, and at Isa. 10:17, YHWH is the light of Israel.  In Rev. 21:23 and 22:5 God will be the light of the new Jerusalem and Christ will be the lamp.  Jesus’ condition stated here, “as long as I am in the world,” paves the way for his disciples to be the light after he has gone (see Isa. 49:6; Matt. 5:14; Eph. 5:8-14; and cf. 1 John 1:5-7).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 70: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C (April 25, 2010) April 16, 2010

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

We have finished the Lenten season four weeks ago. The suffering of Christ has ended, and since then we are still enjoying the celebration of his resurrection. But for us, suffering continues, as it did for the early disciples of Jesus. We still get ill and suffer accidents. We still know the pain of rejection by friends and family. We still get traumatized over what people do to one another—individually or collectively. We still die, and so do our loved ones. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us all hope even in our tough times. It announces victory over the death that would keep us from one another and from God. It promises a future with hope that contrasts sharply with what we see and experience everyday. The Resurrection faith points to a party—a big party open to many people of different nationalities and races and agendas. It seems that the only ticket necessary is what names we call Jesus.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 70: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

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Psalm 23
This psalm of trust is based on the development of the image of YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80; Ezekiel 34) to the intimate relationship of YHWH to the individual worshiper.  The imagery speaks of the Lord’s guidance, presence, and protection through the valley of darkness.  (The traditional translation “the valley of the shadow of death” was based on reading Hebrew tsalmût = “darkness” as tsalmāwet = “valley of death”; however, there are no compound nouns in biblical Hebrew.)  The scene switches in verses 5-6 to a festive meal in the temple where the worshiper exults in the ongoing joy at participating in this different kind of intimacy with the Lord.  The worshiper has confidence for the future because of the constancy of God’s care past and present.

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Acts 9:36-43
Continuing the healing ministry of Jesus and endowed with the Holy Spirit, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and restored her to her community, an act that inspired others to the faith.

Context
After reporting the conversion of Saul on the Damascus road earlier in the chapter, the author of Luke-Acts brings that section to a conclusion by announcing that the church in Judea and Galilee and Samaria walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  Although in our liturgical calendar, we still wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, this chapter in the Book of Acts occurs nine chapters after that event.  It is important to realize that the church and its apostles have already been endowed with the Spirit as they go about their ministry.

Key Words
V. 36.  Joppa:  Jaffa, the modern name, is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, only a couple of miles from the modern-day city of Tel Aviv.  The city is known in the OT as the place where Jonah tried to flee from the Lord’s command to preach to the city of Nineveh.

V. 38.  Lydda, also known as Lod, is located about 11 miles southeast of Joppa.  It plays an important role in the previous paragraph as the home of Aeneas, a man bedridden for 8 years, whom Peter healed.  The miracle brought many of the residents of Lydda and nearby Sharon to faith.

V. 40. Tabitha, anastēthi = “Tabitha, arise”: When Jesus performed a similar miracle for the daughter of Jairus, he said to the dead girl, “Talitha, cumi” (Aramaic) which means in Greek “Little girl, … arise” (Mark 5:41; however, the Greek word in Mark is egeire). The presentation of live Tabitha to others is similar to that of the little girl in Mark. The story recalls the miracles of the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17) and Elisha (2 Kings 4).

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Revelation 7:9-17
Gathered around the throne of God and comprised of people from every nation, the community of the faithful singing the “hymn of all creation” learn the blessings to come in the kingdom.

Context
The vision of John the Seer throughout the entire book is written to provide people with hope in the midst of the persecution under Emperor Domitian in the year A.D. 95.  This particular piece is part of the vision that resulted from the Lamb opening the sixth seal.

V. 9. kai enōpion tou arniou = and before the Lamb”: Using a different Greek word (amnos), other NT writers speak of Jesus “as a lamb” (Acts 8:32) or “like a lamb without blemish” (1 Peter 1:19), although the author of John’s Gospel puts the title into the mouth of John the Baptist: “Behold the lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).(This word amnos appears frequently in the LXX for the lamb in the sacrificial system.) As for the word arnios used here, John the Seer uses the word as a designation of Christ 28 times. Elsewhere in the NT, the word appears only of Jesus’ “flock” at John 21:15.

V. 14. en tō aimati tou arniou = “in the blood of the Lamb”: Clearly the sacrificial use of the lamb is clear here, especially as the title appears in v. 10 in regard to “salvation.”

V. 16. A quotation of Isaiah 49:10 where God’s word of salvation is addressed to the exiles in Babylon.

V. 17. hoti to arnion to ana meson tou thronou poimanei autous = “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd”: The change from “lamb” to “shepherd” of the flock is striking, but with the title “shepherd” comes a rich OT image of God and of the Messiah (see Psalm 23:1: Ezek. 34:15, 23; note God’s naming Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” at Isa. 44:28). In the ancient world, the title “shepherd” was common for royalty, used by such leaders as Hammurabi, king of Babylon, and Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

V. 17. kai exaleipsei ho theos pan dakryon ek tōn ophthalmōn autōn = “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”: The quotation of Isaiah 25:8 enhances the image of the eschatological blessings for those who in faith endure tribulations.

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John 10:22-30
More powerful than all others, Jesus and the Father can assure the sheep of the flock that no one can snatch them away and deprive them of eternal life.

Context
Jesus had just finished the saying about himself as the Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34; Psalm 80) and as one who had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again.  These words caused division among the Judeans in the temple, some saying he has a demon and others claiming that no one with a demon could have performed such miracles as healing the blind. The conclusion of the dissenters was: “Why listen to him?”

Key Words
V. 22.  “the feast of the Dedication“:  The feast is Chanukkah, the celebration of the purification of the temple (164 B.C.) after it had been desolated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167 B.C.).

V. 24.  heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis = “How long will you take away our breath/life”:  In vv. 11, 15-18 Jesus speaks of giving his psychē for the sheep and having the power to give it and take it again.

V. 24.  “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”:  See the question of the Sanhedrin at Luke 22:67, as well as Jesus response there. Here the question comes from the Judeans who had gathered around him in the temple’s portico of Solomon.

V. 27-28. ta probata ta ema tēs phōnēs mou akouousin, kagō ginōskō auta kai akolouthousin moi, kagō didōmi autois zōēn aiōnion = “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life”: The connection among hearing, being known, following is essential for discipleship and for the reward of eternal life. Voice recognition becomes critical for distinguishing those who hear and those who do not. For the result of life, see John 3:15-16.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 19, 2009) June 26, 2009

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

How can we understand or speak of God without metaphors? The reality of God is so far beyond our comprehension that we humans can only use metaphorical language to approximate who God is and how God acts. The biblical writers had no advantage over us. They were fortunate enough to be the inventors of language forms that described a unique and unfathomable God for their time. They, after all, wrote the Bible—the collection of books we use as our norm for understanding God and God’s work. We are both blessed and challenged by the metaphorical language they chose.

To many readers, the image of shepherd and sheep has little relevance to today’s audience. Happily, in many parts of the world the role of shepherding continues and provides some insights into the biblical image. When we recognize that in the ancient world, kings frequently called themselves “shepherds of the people, we are not much better off since many of us have no more familiarity with kings than with shepherds. Whether or not modern day readers have ever seen a shepherd or a king, however, the biblical metaphor — used in both testaments — convey some powerful messages about the work of God: the pasturing, the gathering, the protecting, and the guidance back to the fold. Several of our lessons use these images for announcing the relationship between God and God’s people, while Ephesians 2 manages to probe the depths of the flock’s oneness without resorting to “sheep” or to “kings” but to “the cornerstone” of the structure that holds originally separate parts of the church together as the dwelling of God. Ultimately, as is true throughout the New Testament, all the metaphors come together in Jesus Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal in this psalm. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God lives up to the name YHWH by assuring faithfulness to past promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch the party with envy. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available to the psalmist but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.

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Psalm 89:20-37
This psalm is an intriguing combination of several themes. Verses 5-18 praise the Lord as the incomparable God in the divine assembly, the one who established supremacy by conquering the forces of chaos (the sea, its waves, Rahab, the enemies). Verses 1-4, 19-37 take the form of a Davidic royal psalm, announcing that the Lord made an everlasting covenant with David to rule from Jerusalem’s throne over God’s people and to assert divine authority over the forces of chaos (sea and rivers). This royal power derives from the Father-son relationship God established with David and his descendants. Verses 38-51 become a powerful lament on the part of the people who in 597 B.C. have seen their Davidic king dragged off to exile in Babylon, calling into question the power and fidelity of God to the promises made long ago to David (2 Samuel 7:1-14).

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2 Samuel 7:1-14a
In contrast to the trivial matter of a house for the Lord, God promises to David an enduring house (dynasty) through which God will rule over the chosen people in a new way.

Context
David had been king over Judah for seven years before the people of Israel came to him at Hebron and asked him to be their king, too (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Once that transaction was accomplished, David established Jerusalem as his capital city because it was a site with connections neither to Judah nor to Israel (5:6-10). Having settled and made himself strong, David brought the ark of the covenant from the home of Obed into the city of Jerusalem and placed it in the tent of meeting on the slope that was called Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 1.  waYHWH hēnîach-lô missābîb mikkol-’ōyebāyw = “and the Lord gave him rest from all his enemies round about”:  an expression typical of the Deuteronomistic history (see Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:19; Josh. 21:44; 23:1).

V. 8. ’anî leqachtîkā min-hannāweh mē’achar hatstsō’n lihyôt nāgîd ‘al-‘ammî ‘al-yisrā’ēl = “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people Israel”: The expression ties together the imagery of kings and shepherds known from the Bible and elsewhere. Furthermore, the words appear at Amos 7:15 to describe the Lord’s snatching Amos from his job as a shepherd to the function of prophet.

V. 9.  we‘āsîtî lekā šēm gādōl = “and I will make for you a great name”:  cf. the similar expression wa’agaddelā šemekā = “I will make great your name” in God’s promise to Abraham at Gen.12:2.

V. 11.  wehiggîd lekā YHWH kî-bayit ya‘ase-llekā YHWH = “and the Lord declares that the Lord will build a house for you”:  the word play on “house” (Heb. bayit) first as a building which David wants to build for YHWH, then as a dynasty which the Lord will establish for David. Note the metaphorical use of building parts to describe Jesus as a “cornerstone” at Ephesians 2:20-21.

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Jeremiah 23:1-6
In contrast to the shepherds who have scattered the flock, God will bring them home and provide good shepherds for their care.

Context
At the time of Jeremiah’s call, Josiah was king of Judah (640-609 B.C.).  Josiah was succeeded by Jehoaz who ruled only a few months. Jehoiakim became king and ruled from 609-598. Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.) was among the first exiles taken to Babylon. In order to maintain the appearance of a native ruler, Nebuchadnezzar picked Mattaniah, changed his name to Zedekiah (“Yah is my righteousness”), and the puppet king reigned until the second deportation in 587 B.C.

Key Words
V. 1.  mephitsîm ‘et-tsōn = “who scatter the flock”:  The same allusion occurs at Ezek. 34 (esp. vv.6, 7, 12) to speak of the failure of the appointed leaders of Judah.

V. 3.  wa’anî ’aqabbēts ’et-še’ērît tsōnî = “and I will gather the remnant of my flock”:  Note the contrast between the shepherds who scatter and the Lord who gathers at Ezek. 34.

V. 4. wahaqîmōtî ‘alêhem rô‘îm = “And I will appoint shepherds over them”: The following paragraph leads to the assumption that the shepherds will be Davidic kings who will fulfill the obligations of their office, especially hearing the needy when they cry out for help (Ps. 72:2, 4, 12-14). This connection of the appointed shepherd with a future Davidic king is much like the prophecy in Ezekiel 34. By contrast, according to Second Isaiah, the Lord designates as Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” and “my anointed” (Isa. 44:28; 45:1), even though Cyrus does not know the Lord (45:5).

V. 5.  wahaqîmōtî ledāwid tsemach tsaddîq = “And I will raise up for David a righteous branch”:  The promise of the renewal of the covenant with David is stated here at a time when the dynastic succession has been broken. The image of the branch (tsemach) is used at Zech. 3:8 for Zerubbabel. The “branch” at Isa. 11:1 is a different Hebrew word: nētser.

V. 6.  YHWH tsidqēnû = “the Lord is our righteousness”:  One can only conjecture about whether the name of the truly chosen and legitimate Davidic ruler is a take-off on the name Zedekiah = “the Lord is my righteousness.”

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Ephesians 2:11-22
Against social and religious issues that divide people, the cross of Christ makes peace between us and God and peace with one another in Christ’s body, the church.

Context
Chapters 2 and 3 of the epistle focus on the central theological issue for the author, namely, the unity of the church. The first ten verses of this section explain how the resurrection of Christ had made the Christians alive, and on that basis, the author turns to the matter of reconciliation with God and with one another, especially in terms of the unity of Gentiles and Jews.

Key Words
Vv. 12-13.  tō_ kairō ekeinō … nuni de = “at that time … but now”:  The contrast defines the earlier time as the period when the Gentiles were separated from Christ, from the community of God’s people Israel, and from the covenant promise of God. “But now,” thanks to the sacrifice of Christ, the separation has disappeared.

V. 14.  Autos gar estin hē eirēnē hēmōn_ = “For he is our peace”:  Jesus is for the church “our peace, and “the church has “peace” in terms of the reconciliation of Gentile and Jew (v. 15), because he preached peace to all (v. 17).

V. 14.  kai to mesotoichon tou phragmou lysas = “and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility”: In light of the following words, the dividing wall appears to be that between God and humanity as well as the commandments and ordinances of Judaism (v. 15) which separated Israel from the Gentiles and which God has now “abolished” in order to create a new humanity.

V. 17.  “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near”:  The thought is probably taken from Isaiah 57:19 (“Peace, peace, to the far and the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal them”). The expressions here refer to the Gentiles (you who were far off) and to the Jews (those who were near).

V. 20. ontos akrogōniaiou autou Christou ‘Iēsou = “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”: The metaphor is used only of Christ in the NT. The author of 1 Peter 2:6 quotes Isa. 28:16 (a message that God will write as a cornerstone for the salvation from judgment of those who believe in the Lord). Here the author describes Jesus as the one who binds together the whole community in/as the temple of the Lord in which the God will dwell (vss. 21-22).

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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Like a shepherd caring for his flock, Jesus had compassion on the restless crowds who interrupted his plans for rest and leisure.

Context
The action follows the commissioning of the twelve to continue Jesus’ ministry (6:7-13) and the report about the beheading of John (vv. 14-29).

Key Words
Vv. 31, 32, 35.  erēmon topon = “a lonely/desert place”:  The expression recalls the wilderness experience of Israel. In Mark and Luke, a place (topos) often indicates a spot where people set the agenda by interrupting Jesus. His response to their interruptions indicates his hospitality and a model for discipleship. See Luke 4:42; 6:17; 9:12 and parallels; 11:1; 22:40: 23:33 and parallels.

V 34. kai esplagchnisthē ep’ autous = “and he had compassion on them”: See also1:41 (the leper); 8:2 (similar to the present text); 9:22 (a plea from the father of a boy with an unclean spirit).

V. 34.  hōs probata mē echonta poimena = “like sheep not having a shepherd”:  The quote comes from Num. 27:17 where God appoints Joshua to work with Moses so that the people do not wander aimlessly.

V. 56. kai hosoi an ēpsanto autou esōzonto = “and as many who touched it were healed”: For the healing touch in Jesus ministry, see Mark 1:41; 4:28-31. For the continuation of the healing touch into Paul’s ministry, see Acts 19:11.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 3, 2009) April 15, 2009

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

The image, indeed the title, of shepherd holds two of our passages together. Just as the people of Israel praised the Lord as their shepherd in the familiar Psalm 23, so Jesus claims the title for himself in John 10. Most of us have little or no experience of sheep and shepherding. The image might not speak very well to our technological age. We do not like to think of ourselves as sheep that are herded here and there. But in ancient times, the relationship between shepherd and sheep was a critical one, and it served in many ways to describe leadership and security. When people felt harassed and helpless, for example, they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Much larger than that, various nuances of the shepherding in the Bible range from intimacy to royalty.

Besides shepherding in our passages for the day is another motif. It is the name of God and of Jesus. What the name meant in ancient times might not seem any more relevant than the image of shepherd. But the divine name lies at the heart of biblical faith. Name and person are intimately tied together also. A person and his or her name are virtually one and the same. Calling God’s name honors God, recognizes God for whom God is, and the name we call God assures us of divine faithfulness.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B.

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Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God’s name assures faithfulness to promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.

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Acts 4:5-12
The healing in the name of Jesus of the man born lame gave opportunity for the apostles to announce that same name is the means by which all people might be saved.

Context
Following the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John for preaching resurrection in Jesus. By their testimony, about five thousand people came to believe.

Key Words
V. 6. “the rulers and elders and scribes … with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family”: The prestigious group made up the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one persons who served as the supreme court for the Jews. The head of this assembly was the high-priest, along with ex-high priests and members of the priestly family. Annas was appointed as high priest by Quirinius (see Luke 2:2; 3:2) in A.D. 6/7 but was deposed in A.D. 15. His son-in-law Caiaphas (Luke 3:2;  occupied the office from A.D. 18-36. The two played key roles in the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:3-4, 57-68; John 18:12-28). Alexander and John are not known apart from their family membership.

V. 7. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”: The reference is to the healing of the man who had been lame from birth. Note the connection between power and name is the question.

V. 8. Tote Petros plētheis pneumatos hagiou = “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit”: in Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit is a predominant theme, starting with the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35), inspiring others (Elizabeth at 1:41; Simeon at 2:25-27, etc.), descending on Jesus at his baptism (3:21), and eventually on the people gathered on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

V. 9-12. en tini houtos sesōtai … kai ouk estin en allō oudeni hē sōtēria, … en hō dei sōthēnai hēmas = “in what way this one was healed … and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heavens given by which we must be saved”:  The play on words between the healing of the man and the salvation of us all brings the two into one context:  the kingdom of God. Recall the summary of Jesus’ ministry at Matthew 4:23; 9:35. The combination of preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus Christ sums the preaching of Paul (Acts 28:31). The significant change from Jesus’ own ministry to that of the apostles here is that the “name” that heals/saves is Jesus (see Matt. 1:21). He is “ Savior” according to Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 John 4:14, just as YHWH was Isaiah 43:3. Jesus’ name and his activity come together.

V. 11. “This is the stone that was rejected by you builders but that has become the head of the corner”: This quotation from Psalm 118:22 is quoted by Jesus at Matthew 21:42 (and parallels) where he promises that the kingdom will be taken away from the people of Israel and given to the nations because they reject him. In its original setting, this Hallel psalm uses these words to speak of the enemies, apparently ‘the nations,” from whom the Lord saved the petitioner. The words also appear at 1 Peter 2:7 to speak of Jesus the rejected one.

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1 John 3:16-24
Because Jesus Christ demonstrated true love by laying down his life for us, God calls us to believe in Jesus’ name and love one another just as actively by helping those in need.

Context
At the beginning of the chapter the author called on his readers to be who they are, God’s children, and that definition distinguished them from the children of “the evil one.” Like Cain who hated his brother and killed him, so are all who hate brothers and sisters. They do not have eternal life abiding in them.

Key Words
V. 16. en toutō egnōskamen tēn agapēn, hoti ekeinos hyper hēmōn tēn psychēn autou ethēken … = “In this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,…”: The act of sacrifice for others demonstrates the truth of “no greater love” at John 15:13. The connection between God’s/Christ’s love and our love for one another is a key theme throughout the Bible (e.g., Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 24:16-22). The two great commandments in the synoptics, the Lord’s Prayer, the gift of money (2 Cor. 9:13-15).

V. 17.  kai theōrē ton adelphon autou chreian echonta = “and sees his brother (or sister) having need”:  The same expression appears at Acts 2:45; 4:35 in terms of the early Christians sharing all their goods so that they might help “any that had need.” At Eph. 4:28 the expression appears as part of the instruction to a thief to earn a living so that he might give to any who have need.

V. 19.  hoti ek tēs alētheias esmen = “that we are from the truth”:  In v. 12 Cain is identified as “from the evil one,” and v. 10 indicates that all who do not do right are “not from God.” The “from” seems to indicate descendance, and so “from the truth” in our verse seems to indicate that our origin is in God. At John 14:6 Jesus asserts that he is “the truth.”

V. 23. “And this is his commandment”: The commandment is twofold: (1) “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ” and (2) “love one another, just as he commanded us.” This twofold command sounds like the great commandment and a second like it (Matt. 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In that combination also the love of God is so intimately tied to loving the neighbor that they can hardly be separated. The difference here is that believing in the name of Jesus leads to loving one another.

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John 10:11-18
On the basis of his willingness to die for his flock and because of his intimate knowledge of his flock, Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd of his people.

Context
In the previous chapter, Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees over several issues surrounding his healing of the man who had been blind since birth (9:1-34). When the Pharisees later heard Jesus telling the man about his coming into the world “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind,” they asked him if they were blind. Jesus’ response, in effect, was affirmative. Jesus then turns to the image of shepherding, indicating in 10:7 that “I AM the door/gate of the sheep.”

Key Words
V. 11.  egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos = “I am the good shepherd”: In the OT, YHWH is called Israel’s Shepherd at Gen. 49:24, and at Ezek. 34:15 the Lord announces “ I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” At Psalm 23, the Lord is the individual petitioner’s Shepherd. At Ps. 78:52-53 YHWH functions as Shepherd while guiding the people of Israel through the wilderness. The “I am” in this context and in the other “I am” passages in the Gospel of John is sometimes compared to “I am” declaration of YHWH at Exod. 3:14 (see Isa. 43:10, 13, 25; 51:12; 52:6). The combination of “I am” with the image of “good shepherd” thus connects Jesus with the YHWH, the one he calls Father. God transfers to Jesus “the name” that God took in the OT.

V. 11.  tēn psychēn autou tithēsin = “lays down his life”:  Peter offers to do lay down his life for Jesus at 13:37; it’s the “greater love” at 15:13 and the means by which we know the love of God and Christ at 1 John 3:16.

V. 14.  ginōskō ta ema kai ginōskousi me ta ema = “I know my own and my own know me”:  This second proof that Jesus is the good shepherd picks up a theme begun at v. 3:  the shepherd calls the sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice. The relationship between Jesus and his flock is like that between YHWH and the people of Israel:  the Semitic understanding of “know” goes beyond intellectual awareness to involve intimacy (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Amos 3:2; Nah. 1:7). At John 18:37, Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

V. 16. kai alla probate exō ha ouk estin ek tēs aulēs tautēs = “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold”:  The author of this gospel makes abundantly clear that God’s love and the coming of Jesus are intended for the world and not simply to the people of Israel. Even Jesus’ announcement that his “hour has come” takes place when the Greeks arrive to see him (12:20-23).

V. 16.  eis poimēn = “one shepherd”:  the expression is used at Eccles. 12:11 as a description of God, but at Ezek. 34:23 and 37:24 it is a designation for the Davidic king. Now, however, the flock extends beyond the people of Israel.